Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Toward New Models for the Scale and Practice of Agriculture, No. 4

Our first, second, and third posts in this series are, respectively, here, here, and here.
“Agribusiness lab breeds its few poultry lineages at the level of grandparent stock before shipping out the product to clientele around the world. The practice in effect removes natural selection as a self-correcting (and free) ecological service. Any culling upon an outbreak or by farmers in reaction to an outbreak has no bearing on the development of immune resistance to the pathogens identified, as these birds, broilers and layers alike, are unable to evolve in response.
In other words, the failure to accumulate natural resistance to circulating pathogens is built into the industrial model before a single outbreak occurs. There exists no room for real-time, ecologically responsive, and self-organized immune resistance.
From a world away, human breeders and vaccines must somehow track microscopic molecular trajectories across dynamic mixes of myriad local pathogen variants, a Sisyphean task. It’s a system that appears able to repel pathogens only under the kind of biosecurity and biocontainment that often can’t be implemented in developing countries and even in some developed countries. No ecologically selected resistance, surrounded by a fence. The image of a broken arm, pale and mushy in a cast, comes to mind. Or perhaps more appropriately, a pale mushy wing.
Setting aside barn architecture, reifying capitalism’s angry fight against nature, and the resulting effect on flavor and nutritional fitness of the food produced, Fortress Filière should be subjected to an additional query. Does it even work?
In increasing the rate of livestock turnover, blocking entry by low-pathogenic strains, and restricting selection to grandparent stock, intensive farming is forced to increase the precision of its biosecurity efforts if only in order to keep deadlier pathogen variants from emerging in a context of no or little new natural host resistance.
We can ask of there are combinations of harvesting rate and finishing time selecting for virulence and/or transmissibility that supersede the precision of which the industry is capable or is willing to pay for. At what point does the nature of the problem supersede the margins dedicated to its solution?
The last is perhaps a silly question, as how could we possible assume companies are responsible for the dangers that originate on their property? Sarcasm aside, it offers an explanation for the lengths to which agribusiness goes to externalize the integral environmental, social, and health costs of their operations to any and every passerby—governments, consumers, workers, livestock, and the environment. Agribusiness, some of the largest companies in the world, can’t afford them otherwise.” — Rob Wallace, 21 June 2011, in Big Farms Make Big Flu (2016): 222-223. 

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